Despite the end of the busy tourist season, the Maine State Ferry Service has a full plate for the early fall. Members of the service’s citizen advisory board learned about maintenance, upgrade, scheduling, and legal matters at their Sept. 6 meeting in Rockland.
Most visible will be work on the parking lot at the Rockland terminal, which ferry managers say will result in adding 12 parking spots, safer and more efficient traffic flow, and better drainage.
Part of the lot was closed in mid-September, and the entire lot is slated to be closed to accommodate the work from Oct. 8 to Oct. 16. The service offered free walk-on tickets for those island residents who keep mainland cars in the lot, and the service also is providing free shuttle bus service from the Hannaford parking lot to and from the terminal.
Some islanders have said notice of the need to move mainland cars was not adequately given. Service manager Mark Higgins pledged to step-up the effort to reach affected vehicle owners.
Advisory board member Lisa Shields of North Haven reiterated a perennial islander complaint about ferry staff being rude and arbitrary with those waiting to board ferries. Shields said some line attendants in Rockland had been egregious in exceeding their authority.
Higgins and other service representatives will hold a public meeting on North Haven on Oct. 18, he said, at which concerns can be aired. Service managers will meet with the island town’s select board prior to the public meeting.
The ferry service is working on a new schedule for 2019 which could eliminate the 4:30 p.m. boat to and from Vinalhaven in the winter, with the last boat being the 3:15 p.m. trip. Higgins explained that ferry captains approaching the island terminal in the dark during the winter months often are blinded by bright LED lights mounted on floats moored near the ferry landing. The floats are used by smack boats which buy lobster from island fishermen.
“We’re just asking for an accident to happen there,” Higgins said in response to questions from Vinalhaven Town Manager Andy Dorr. The service has sought input from the U.S. Coast Guard, he added, and said any change in the late afternoon schedule “would be completely based on safety.”
On the Islesboro run, the service might not switch to the summer schedule until later in the spring, perhaps in mid-May, Higgins said. Currently, the more frequent runs of the summer schedule begin March 15.
A final decision on the 2019 schedule is expected on Oct. 1.
In an unrelated matter, the Margaret Chase Smith, used on the Islesboro run, will be hauled out for repairs beginning in mid-September, returning to service in late October or early November. The Gov. Curtisand Everett Libbyand possibly the privately-owned Island Transporterwill fill-in on that run, Higgins reported, but noted: “There is a risk in this plan.” If another boat in the fleet has equipment problems, the service would not have a back-up ferry.
A new ferry being built in East Boothbay is scheduled to be delivered in September 2019, the ferry service reported.
An ongoing legal challenge to the ferry service decision to significantly raise rates on the Islesboro ferry by the island town had both sides making arguments before a judge on Sept. 7 in Augusta. Higgins noted at the Sept. 6 meeting that a request from Islesboro to hold off the new rates was rejected by the judge.